Network shies from football, comedies

The major broadcast nets like the cards they hold on Sunday, and won’t be shuffling the deck much this fall.

Pro football action on NBC and animated comedies on Fox target men, ABC again will go after families and women, while CBS targets the 40-plus aud.

And that leaves newbie netlet CW — with a ragtag lineup and no discernible strategy — on the outside looking in.

CW, however, does have the most appealing addition to Sunday in family drama “Life Is Wild,” while the net is also rolling out a pair of new, inexpensive experimental half-hours to lead off the night.

Odds, though, would seem to be stacked against the night’s other rookie, CBS drama “Viva Laughlin,” which won’t bow until mid-October.

In the fall, at least, when football provides a lift for CBS, NBC and Fox, Sunday is a night with no real losers: ABC and NBC should battle for demo supremacy, while Fox will excel among auds under 35 and CBS will occasionally score a victory among total viewers.

Here’s a look at the night:

ABC

Although Thursday is a ratings winner as well, this remains ABC’s signature night, combining the family-friendly “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” with a pair of soapy sudsers that both have family at the forefront.

“Videos” can still bring in auds and will be competitive on weeks when there’s no long football overrun. And “Home Edition” is again the show to beat at 8 o’clock, perhaps gaining an advantage when CBS removed an unscripted rival, “Amazing Race,” from the time period.

“Desperate Housewives” has clearly seen its best days, but inspired casting additions and intriguing new storylines have piqued curiosity for its fourth season. It should win among adults 18-49 and all key female demos.

Keep an eye on “Brothers & Sisters” at 10, as the second-year drama — which a year ago overcame bad buzz amid a below-average pilot episode — found its stride as the season went along. It should be the top entertainment series choice in the hour among young adults, with more viewers likely to give it a try now that the CBS competish (“Shark”) isn’t as strong as a year ago.

CBS

“Viva Laughlin” isn’t the disaster that critics have painted it, but it’s tough imagining young viewers watching this murder/soap/musical hybrid. The net will be hard-pressed to approach the demo deliveries it saw in this hour a year ago with “Amazing Race,” which figures to return to this slot in the second half of the season.

Crime drama “Cold Case” remains a good choice for the tough 9 o’clock hour opposite “Desperate Housewives.” The softer lead-in from “Laughlin” shouldn’t hurt much since the show didn’t mesh all that well with “Race” a year ago.

And at 10, the second-year James Woods drama “Shark” takes over for “Without a Trace.” It’s risky to move a show so young but, paired with “Cold Case,” the Eye should stay competitive in this hour — though down a notch.

Once again, football overruns are a problem for CBS, as late starts combined with an inflexible “60 Minutes” mean that as many as four Eye programs will start late on some nights. At least “Laughlin” will launch in a stretch when CBS does not have the late game (Oct. 21 and 28), enabling it to start at its skedded time for two whole weeks.

NBC

“Sunday Night Football” propelled the net to significant ratings gains on the night a year ago, and the NFL clearly has given the Peacock a great batch of games to start the season: Top-5 markets Dallas, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia dominate the early-going, and the November sweep is packed with marquee matchups as well.

One unfortunate result of a later start to the television season than usual is that the first three Sunday night games (instead of, traditionally, just the first two games) aren’t included in the fall averages for NBC. The one-week difference means the Sept. 23 Cowboys-Bears monster falls one day prior to the start of the TV season.

Fox

With “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” as anchors, you’d think it was 1999. But these cartoon comedies can still pack in a young-male audience, and they make perfect sense on a night when Fox wants to take advantage of its football lead-in audience while also providing something that will keep footballers from flipping over to NBC’s primetime matchup.

“Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” should once again win or challenge for the lead in adults 18-34 while standing as among the top shows of the week in persons 12-34.

And “King of the Hill,” after a few seasons in the lower-profile 7 o’clock hour, gets a promotion to 8:30 in its 12th year — a smart move opposite the tough NFL action on NBC (games start at 8:15 p.m. ET).

After trying without much success to incorporate a live-action comedy into the night (“The War at Home”), Fox is going with the fairly reliable “American Dad” to close out the night. There will certainly be some post-“Family Guy” drop off in audience, but this is about the best Fox can do here.

Kicking off the night, net will once again air an NFL postgame show on the weeks when it airs the late-afternoon national game. Part of this is to deflate NBC’s pregame show, but it also enables “The Simpsons” to start on time every week.

CW

The toughest nut for the WB to crack, it’s now the toughest for this net. This is clear by the nonsensical flow between its three hours: celeb mag “CW Now” and videoclip-driven “Online Nation” into new family drama “Life Is Wild,” into repeats of “America’s Next Top Model.”

I guess you could say that on a night with some big hits and disruptions for football, the net is programming each individual hour the best way it can. But it won’t enjoy real success here until it finds a hit that can help steer the rest of the night.

Perhaps the South Africa-set “Life” is a step in the right direction, since it’s a fun, fresh take on the family drama — something that would figure to work in this time period. It could chip into “Home Edition’s” dominance here among femmes 12-34.

Bottom line

ABC and NBC will be the fourth-quarter leaders, but football overruns will keep CBS and Fox in the game too.

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